Saturday, January 22, 2011


On Wednesday last, 19th January, I got up at 5am. I headed straight for the kitchen for a glass of ice cold orange juice to wake me up. As I arrived downstairs I wondered who had left what light on. The kitchen was glowing in the darkness of the pre dawn. I suspected a laptop or muted TV. But no. Directly above one of the roof windows January’s Wolf moon was spilling ivory light all over the floor and up the walls.

An hour later I was walking down South Anne Street and again the moon called to me as she sailed slowly over the Westbury Hotel lending the silent city an air of magic. I stopped to honour her magnificence and attempted to capture it on my phone camera. I wondered what the moon was trying to say to me.

My early morning interview on Newstalk Radio done, I headed back towards Grafton Street in search of breakfast. As the moon sank slowly out of sight ahead of the rising winter sun, radios were beginning to pick over the previous nights drama in Dail Eireann, where Brian Cowen had won the vote of confidence in his leadership of Fianna Fail. Michael Martin’s challenge had certainly never looked very threatening. He had cut a lonely figure in a bare hotel room at his press conference. In fact Fianna Fail’s efforts to oust its leader was like watching a tribe of pygmies trying to down a bull elephant with bows and arrows.

The only talking point on Wednesday morning was Mary Hanafin’s apparent crisis of conscience or confidence which led to her picking up an arrow and launching it gently in the direction of the bullish Cowen. Even for a girl it was a rubbish throw and its only effect was to make her look very silly indeed.

Delivery trucks lined up on Grafton Street and the street echoed with the sound of shutters being raised signalling the beginning of the day’s trade. I left to head back to my normal life and Wednesday routine.

As evening fell, Grandmother Moon rose into the sky again, looking even more powerful and beautiful. Her round face seemed to wear an enigmatic smile as she presided over more mayhem. By 9pm the first of a waterfall of resignations was announced as Mary Harney bade farewell to her inglorious tenure as Minister for Health.

By 11pm, the moon was high in the sky and three more ministers vacated their positions. Our Government seemed to be melting in the moonlight.

By the time I awake on Thursday morning the moon is low in the Western sky and wearing a warm buttery rich hue. I am sure she winks at me as I try once more to capture her last moments of stunning beauty.

In Dail Eireann chaos has descended as Biffo attempts to promote lesser spotted TDs into ministerial roles. It was clearly seen as a political stunt to provide some much needed positive PR to elected representatives before they have to knock on doors around their constituencies and it backfires spectacularly. The Green Party throw a spanner in the works. At around the same time it seems that the comatose front bench finally wake up and their barely hidden anger is captured by the amazed political hacks who witness it. There are even reports of Mary Hanafin using the ‘f word’. The day ends with a reduced cabinet double jobbing all over the place.

By Thursday night, Fianna Fail seems to be eating itself. Conor Lenihan gives a stunning performance on Vincent Browne’s programme as he sells both his leader and his brother up the river. His anger explodes causing his face to glow crimson as he attempts to give birth to his new self right there on live TV.

As I head to bed, I search the sky for the moon. She is invisible under a thick blanket of cloud. But I hear her message. Her work is done here.... for now.

Goddess Moon, Grandmother Moon – symbol of feminine power and energy is now waning. But she will be back again in 28 days. I can’t wait.

Photo by Paul Sherwood

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Today I attended the funeral of a man I didn’t know well but who was a constant if irregular presence in my life since the mid 70’s.

I first saw Paul Ashford when my mother brought me to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The production was meant to take place in the Olympia Theatre but part of the roof collapsed and so the show was moved to the improbable location of the State Cinema in Phibsboro. I remember that as we took our seats, the band/orchestra were making their way through the auditorium to the makeshift ‘pit’. Paul Ashford was not tall but I was about 10 years old. He had a mop of curly hair and the most beautiful blue eyes. I remember him clearly as he strolled down the aisle in a battered leather aviator jacket with the big furry collar up around his ears. I thought he was gorgeous.

At the time, the role of Pharaoh was played by a singer called Cahir O Doherty who did a mean Elvis impression. My mother thought he was the hottest thing since.... well, Elvis Presley. O’Doherty had his own band, imaginatively called The Dazzle Band – this was the era of Glam Rock remember. Cahir O Doherty and the Dazzle Band played in cabaret venues throughout the city. My mother, if truth be told became a bit of a groupie, following the Dazzle Band to such exotic places as The Drake Inn, Finglas, The Tudor Rooms in Barry’s Hotel off Parnell Street and the Noggin Inn in Sallynoggin. She brought me with her, as junior groupie. I was 13 years old, getting into over 18 venues and drinking babycham! Cahir O’Doherty didn’t really do it for me, but I always thought that Paul was very cute!

The Dazzle Band faded out, I became a hippie and hung around with my friends as opposed to my mother. I left school and started working. Dublin was a dull old place and we were in the middle of a recession. Punk rock was spewing out its anger all over the place. But on the southside, a new band hit the scene. Stepaside’s Sunday gigs at the Sportsman’s Inn in Mount Merrion were legend. The band was fronted by Paul Ashford who played a mean bass guitar and wrote the bands songs, their best known tracks being The Last Resort and the impossibly romantic Always Loved You and I Always Will. Paul was still cute. He had a smile that lit up his whole face and a boyish charm. Although by now it was the keyboard player Dennis Woods who turned my head.

The early 80s gigs faded out too. But I still met Paul regularly around south Dublin. He always had time to say hello and ask after my mother. After Stepaside he formed his own band who played at my brother’s wedding in the 90s. Then in the last few years, Stepaside occasionally reformed and played gigs in local pubs. It was a joy to go along and sing along to those same songs we bopped about to in the Sportsman’s Inn.

Today in a church in Bray, I listened to his former band members and friends play soft versions of those same songs as we said goodbye, much too soon to a great guitarist, song writer and nice guy. Thanks Paul for the music, for the memories and for making me feel so grown up when I was 13 years old.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

An Unexpected Gift

This piece was broadcast on Sunday Miscellany, RTE Radio 1 on Sunday 9th of January.

The recent snowfall, which caused such travel chaos, also brought with it some unexpected and beautiful gifts, which was very appropriate in the run up to the Festive Season.

The uncommon arrival of such deep snow inserted a large comma into the normally manic days preceding Christmas. The kid’s school was closed, I wouldn’t drive and so life took on a whole new way of being. Lighting an afternoon fire and making bedtime hot water bottles became essential and were reminders of a previous, simpler way of life. As Christmas neared, I made two shopping excursions facilitated by my husband and his jeep. Knowing I wouldn’t be venturing forth again forced me to focus on essentials as opposed to striving to create festive perfection. It was the most relaxed Christmas week ever. Trudging through snow to Mass on Christmas Eve was an added magical bonus of the arctic weather.

But more than all that, I just loved the special quiet that a thick blanket of snow brings. That uniquely snowy hush as the earth is wrapped up in frozen whiteness. I was tucking my children into bed one night when my youngest said “mom, listen. What’s that sound?”

I stopped and listened. As I whispered “that’s the fog horn on the end of Dun Laoghaire pier” I was whisked back over forty years to my own childhood bedroom in Blackrock, about a mile from the sea.

How many nights did I lie in my bed listening to that very same, regular sound as it floated out over Dublin Bay? If I listened very closely, way off in the distance, the Dun Laoghaire fog horn was answered by the one on Howth Head. I used to wonder about what ships might be in the bay, hearing the low drone of the fog horns. Who were on these ships? Where were they going? Where they safe? Was the sound of the fog horn reassuring to them or did it sound an ominous warning.

I used to imagine a young deck hand, a boy perhaps a little older than me, onboard one of these ghost ships of my imagination. Was he wishing he could be home, tucked up safely in his bed as I was?

Back then I was in national school in Monkstown where I was very lucky to have a wonderful teacher who was steeped in local history and folklore. She often told us the stories of 18th century shipwrecks that occurred just off the coast of Dun Laoghaire and Dalkey. Her stories were vivid and totally captivated my childish imagination. She told us that many of the victims of these tragedies were buried in the old graveyard on Carrickbrennan Road. So as I lay there on those winter nights, my mind also wandered to their ancient headstones and I wondered if these lost souls could hear the mournful tune of the fog horn. Perhaps if they had been able to hear a fog horn, back on the night their ships sank, their lives could have been saved. According to my teacher, many of them perished because in the foggy confusion they did not realise just how close to the shore they were.

“What are you thinking mom” brings me back to my daughter’s bedroom. “I’m thinking about how much I love the sound of the fog horn and how we have never heard it here before.”

What a wonderful gift the snow delivered – a last chance to fall asleep to the comforting, regular, heartbeat of the fog horn on Dun Laoghaire Pier.

Next Tuesday, 11th of January, Ireland’s fog horns, having outlived their usefulness, will be switched off for good. I doubt I will be alone in missing their lonely yet comforting call on winter nights.

Photo by Paul Sherwood
Painting of Dun Laoghaire Harbour by Jim Scully. See

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Nollaig na mBan

Today, 6th of January is the feast of the epiphany but here in Ireland it is also Women's Christmas - Nollaig na mBan.

To mark the occasion I have written a guest post for the Anti Room Blog which you can read here.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Long, long ago, in a galaxy far away, I was about 20 and working for JWT, at that time Ireland’s largest tour operator. It was a great job which I loved very much. Most travel companies at that time were staffed mainly by people in their 20s and early 30s and so the social life was just brilliant. To coin a phrase ‘we worked hard and played hard’.

This was back in the early 80s when Disco was king. Shiny satiny gear, impossibly big hair and bright eyeshadow were de rigeur. We disco danced on multi coloured dance floors in Flamingos and Tamangos and between our disco moves we drank cocktails. It was all very sophisticated in a Saturday Night Fever kind of way.

But at heart I was always a rock chick! I grew up in Dun Laoghaire in the late 70s, hanging out in the infamous Dunelles pub – a dark cavern of a pub in the basement of the not long opened Dun Laoghaire Shopping Centre – where we listened to local musician Dominic Mulvaney playing Bob Dylan and Neil Young. On Saturday night we headed to the late night movie in the Forum Cinema in Glasthule which always seemed to be Pink Floyd’s Live In Pompeii.

My personal music hero was our very own, Phil Lynott who was not only a wonderful musician but also a poet. He was wrapped in the folklore of Ireland which coupled with the fact that he was Dublin’s first black man, made for a heady mix. I saw Thin Lizzy live in the RDS in Dublin in June 1980 and even though I am sure the venue was less than perfect, it remains in my memory one of the best concerts I have ever experienced. Lynott had an electric presence. He was also sexy and gorgeous in the classic Rock God tradition.

Working in the city I did see Philo once or twice striding along Grafton Street grinning from under his curly mop of hair. Such sightings were very exciting indeed.

My work social life with its Disco beat continued with summer BBQs in Joe Walsh’s house, occasional weekends in Ibiza and Majorca and an annual conference which kicked off a hectic Christmas period. But there was one social event in the travel business year to which invitations were highly coveted. A certain travel agent threw a BBQ in his family home, which was large property on the beachfront in Sutton. Only the very coolest and trendiest people got an invite. And for years I was not one of them.

Then one summer, just like Cinderella, I got a call to the ball, or rather the BBQ. I was beyond excited. I had made it, finally. I can’t remember what satin creation I deemed suitable for this important event but I do very clearly remember arriving into the garden in Sutton. I thought I had stepped into a film set. May I remind you that this was the early 80s. Dublin was a dreary place. BBQs were not yet on sale in every DIY shop in the country, nor were fairy lights. So the sight of this huge garden lit by fairy lights in the trees was breathtaking.

In the centre of the garden was an outdoor swimming pool which had been drained for the party and was in use as the dance floor. The BBQ was on one side of the pool and the bar on the other. All around the garden were dotted tables and umbrellas and at the end of the garden a gate opened out to the beach. I took all this in and tried to keep my mouth from dropping open. As I wandered towards the bar, trying to look as cool as possible, I passed a table and almost fell over those familiar long, leather clad legs. At that point I am sure my jaw did drop. I was at a party with Phil Lynott! If I could have imagined heaven at that age, this would have been it.

I don’t remember the rest of the evening. But I do know that although a year or so later I was spending most weekends in The Pink Elephant which was regularly frequented by U2, Def Leppard and the like, there was no one as cool as Phil Lynott. I just wished I had had the confidence to have gone over and planted a kiss on those chocolaty cheeks.

Phil Lynott died on this day 25 years ago.
Ni bheidh a leithead aris ann.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Finally, we have arrived at the New Year. I love the fresh feeling and hope that the dawn of a new year brings and this year we also mark a new decade. It is a time for looking forward. It is time to stop wasting time with regrets or worrying about the year that has finally ended.

2010 was a challenging and difficult year for Ireland and her people. I, no doubt am not alone is being very glad to see the back of it. Last night, for the first time in many years, we just sat by the fire as a family and allowed the old year to slip into history. (Before you wonder if I have lost it altogether – me and him did have a glass or four of wine!) Today we are looking forward to all the possibilities this brand new year may bring to us.

So what about this new decade? I am hoping that we will make 2011, the year that hope is reborn in Ireland. We lost so much confidence in 2010. We were bombarded by a media obsessed with our economic difficulties. In 2011 I believe, that each of us need to make a conscious decision each day to hold on to hope. We need to focus on the future and on recovery. But most of all we need to hold onto the belief that we can make it happen…. And we will.

Personally, along with hope, I am going to attempt to live fearlessly this year. Many of us are finding that fear is making it difficult to see a way ahead. Fear is a very limiting and damaging emotion and is only useful if you are facing directly and immediately into danger. Fear should be fleeting – not long term.

So I say drop the fear, hang onto hope and march confidently on into the new decade! Fake it till we make it, if you like. Although the last verse of Bette Midler's The Rose also captures the sentiment perfectly:

When the night has been too lonely
and the road has been to long,
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong,
just remember in the winter
far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed that with the sun's love
in the spring becomes the rose.

May we all witness the blooming of prosperity, justice and peace for all in 2011